A Vicious Healthcare Strike Cycle

by | Jan 19, 2023 | Federal, Healthcare, NLRB, SEIU, Strikes, Unions

The plague of healthcare strikes continues into 2023 with a nationwide crisis beginning to come into full view. Make no mistake, the cycle is a vicious one with no clear way out: ongoing hospital staffing shortages lead to chronically higher case loads, which lead to union-fueled walkouts, which lead to greater staffing shortages, and so on.

The resulting chaos cannot be understated. Diverted ambulances, the transfer of high-risk patients to other facilities, and the cancellation of elective surgeries are all regular occurrences upon threat of a strike. Unions are all too happy to keep the cycle going for their own benefit. Their maneuvering continues while hospitals sift through the overload that grew during the pandemic and has not lessened yet.

To complicate matters, retiring nurses currently outnumber graduates from nursing schools, which lack sufficient faculty and, as a result, are turning away qualified applicants. It’s no wonder that healthcare strikes are reaching a fever pitch across the United States. Here’s a roundup of this month’s notable developments:

  • New York: In early January, 10,000 nurses threatened to strike at five NYC hospitals. Two of those hospitals narrowly averted walkouts, but after contract negotiations fell apart at two other major facilities, 7,000 nurses hit the picket lines. Three days later, the nurses headed back to work after the New York State Nurses Association agreed to a tentative contract with 19% pay raises. Meanwhile, a hospital in nearby Oceanside saw 800 nurses join the same union.
  • California: Nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center waged a 10-day strike in late December to follow up on their five-day strike in October. The previous walkout revolved around workplace violence, and the recent strike called for a resolution to high turnover. Bargaining talks repeatedly broke down between the California Nurses Association and the hospital.
  • Minnesota: 15,000 nurses pulled back from a threatened strike after hospitals and the Minnesota Nurses Association reached a deal. Over three years, these nurses will receive 18% pay raises. Also, the state’s home healthcare workers reached a tentative contract that could boost salaries by 31%. The SEIU represents over 20,000 home caregivers throughout the state.
  • Hawaii: The Kaiser Permanente strike now qualifies as the longest mental healthcare worker strike in history after a high-profile strike from their California counterparts. The SEIU-represented Hawaii workers demand a better patient-therapist ratio and higher wages while claiming that members wait for months to book appointments. As of late December, the strike reached the four-month mark with no end in sight and U.S. senators calling for a resolution.
  • Missouri: The SEIU waged an MLK Day strike at St. Louis’ Hillside Manor Healthcare and Rehab. During the one-day walkout, workers called for raises and improved working conditions, which were reportedly promised but did not materialize.
  • Washington: The state’s hospitals stand on the brink of a $2 billion loss once 2022 figures become clearer. Hospitals and unions continue to clash on how to resolve the worsening crisis. Recently, union-proposed legislation failed to gain state Senate approval to end mandatory overtime and improve staffing ratios.

In addition, Congress passed their year-end, $1.7 trillion Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which has pleased the NLRB with a $25 million funding increase yet does not go as far with healthcare funding as lobbyists would prefer. The bill includes an extension of telehealth flexibilities for Medicare patients but a simultaneous 2% cut to the Medicare physician fee schedule, not so great news for strained hospital budgets.

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